In this unprecedented time of coronavirus quarantining, many parents are working two jobs: their own and that of a teacher. While only 3 percent of the U.S. usually chooses to homeschool, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, now it’s the norm—and it’s not for everyone. The remote school setup requires parents to be more hands-on than many have the time for. So, how do you create a better balance so all the work gets done and nobody loses their mind? We asked several experts for advice.
Create a schedule that works for your family.
Michelle Dell’Aquila, director of Parenting Coach Online and a New York State-certified teacher based in Long Island, says the first thing she tells her clients is to make a schedule. “Make it together, make a big poster and color it and put glitter on it.” And because you know your child better than anyone, tailor it specifically to him. “If your child has focusing difficulties, build in more breaks or maybe an art project or physical activity.” Maybe he works better in the morning, or in short periods throughout the day.
Ideally, parents and kids should be on aligned schedules—taking breaks and working online at the same times. That said, it’s okay and even necessary for the schedule to change daily to accommodate specific events. Olivia Bergeron, LCSW, a psychotherapist and parenting coach whose company Mommy Groove has offices in Manhattan and Brooklyn, recommends families get on the same page at the beginning of the day. “Have a quick family meeting every morning to hammer out what the day will look like. If you need quiet time for calls, or there are time-sensitive tasks due, blocking out the time in advance helps both parents stay on top of projects.”
Another important tip from Bergeron for parents of more than one child: Stagger their schoolwork. “By doing so, you can give as much attention as needed to each child. With fewer distractions from siblings, the work might get done more quickly, ultimately saving you time.”
Set up your kids for success.
Kids are naturally resistant to change and this whole remote schooling thing is still new and unknown, according to Dell’Aquila. There are several ways you can make sure your child is ready to face what’s in front of her. One is to encourage independence, because the last thing you want is your kids interrupting a conference call to ask for a snack. Talia Kovacs, CEO of LitLife, a global literacy firm in Brooklyn, suggests parents teach their kids how to get by without them as much as possible—including chores, cooking, and where to find help. “Ask Three Before Me” (i.e. ask three other people before you ask me) is a philosophy she uses to help her kids become more independent. Make sure your child knows about other resources they can use before running to ask you a question.
Kids also need to know they have something to look forward to—especially during this tough time. Dell’Aquilla recommends parents remind kids they’re actually doing less work than they were in school, and to offer incentives. “Say, ‘Hey listen when you finish your homework you get to go play Minecraft. You know, you’ve actually got a lot more freedom now.”
Another strategy, when weather permits, is to take frequent breaks outside. As Bergeron notes, “staying cooped up at home can make anyone feel irritable. Fresh air, sunlight, and exercise are essential for adults and kids alike.”
Relieve stress—in yourself and your kids.
Stress is contagious, Dell’Aquila says, and it’s important to be aware of it affecting everyone. “I would say to parents first, please take care of yourself,” she says. Find some mindful activities that can help you—even if it’s just for five minutes—because that stress will inevitably trickle down.
Bergeron agrees that kids need parents to project calm. “Your children are looking to you for information about how to feel about this new setup. Good humor and a light touch go a long way toward reassuring them that you’ll get through this challenging time together.”
And make sure to do what works for your family, not what doesn’t, suggests Kristen Glosserman, an executive and life coach in NYC, says: “When we couldn’t access the Schoology app,” she recalls, “I called a recess so my first-grader could go outside and jump on the trampoline. Don’t allow this uncertain time to stress you out—do stay flexible because things are changing every day.”
Bergeron also wants parents to remember that it will not always be perfect. “Your family is adjusting to a vastly different routine. Expect push back from children as they adapt. Keep a positive attitude and don’t take it personally.”
And for those moments when you just can’t do it yourself, don’t be afraid to seek support. Learning apps, like classtechtips.com and scholasticeducation.com, allow you to work while your child is being educated online, Kovacs says. They are especially useful for younger kids who have fewer actual assignments. Dell’Aquila also urges parents to reach out to online counseling centers and/or online tutors to help them through the rough spots.
Communicate with everyone involved.
There are several factors involved in making this situation a success: your work, your child, and their work. First and foremost, notify your job of your constraints, Bergeron advises. “Definitely let your workplace know about your current situation with children at home. If you set realistic expectations from the outset, you won’t set yourself up for failure.” Dell’Aquilla also suggests looping in coworkers and saying something like: “I know you have a family. I have a family. You can do Tuesdays and I’ll do Thursdays.”
She also urges parents to talk through everything with their kids—because kids want to feel involved, acknowledged, and understood, she says. For example, ask them what they really want to do when they finish their work. Let them have a say in how their day plays out.
Parents should also communicate with their child’s teachers, Kovacs says. Ask them for help as much as possible. “For example, do you need more independent work? More instructions on how to complete work?” Make sure the teacher knows what’s not working for you and your child.
Everyone should be part of the solution during this uncharted period. As Dell’Aquila says, “It is a time to be resilient, to be compassionate, and empathetic.”
Shana Liebman is the features editor of NYMetroParents. She’s a writer and editor who has worked for magazines including New York Magazine, Salon, and Travel & Leisure,—and she is the mom of two energetic little boys.